When Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Linda Manzer felt hopeless and wanted to do something—anything—to help. So the renowned Canadian luthier, who over a four-decade career has built custom guitars for the likes of Pat Metheny and Bruce Cockburn, turned to what she knows best. “I made a guitar,” she says. “That was my therapy.”
Ukraine’s national flower, the sunflower, has become a symbol of resistance in the war. The name for the guitar came to Manzer after watching a news clip of a Ukrainian woman defiantly offering a heavily armed Russian soldier a handful of sunflower seeds to put in his pocket, so that flowers might grow on his body if he died on her country’s soil.
Manzer built the Sunflower Guitar in just 29 days using materials she had on hand, including a set of Indian rosewood sides and a European spruce soundboard. While she says that it’s an ordinary guitar in a lot of ways, there are details that set it apart from anything else she has built.
Symbolizing the flag of Ukraine, the fretboard markers are blue and yellow, as is the intricate headstock inlay, featuring a Van Gogh–inspired sunflower, which Manzer hand-painted with watercolor pencils. The inlay also includes 23 pieces of mother-of-pearl, along with the luthier’s signature. “I spent almost as much time doing the inlay work as I did making the guitar,” she admits.
Manzer initially wanted to auction the Sunflower Guitar and donate the proceeds to humanitarian aid efforts for the Ukrainian people. Instead, thanks to an anonymous $100K donation, she came up with a better idea—to pass the instrument through the hands of high-profile musicians who would encourage their fans to give to this worthy cause.
Since last July, when the Sunflower Guitar made its first public appearance at the Mariposa Folk Festival in Canada, the instrument has journeyed across North America. It’s been played by Bill Frisell, Julian Lage, Pat Metheny, and others, all of whom have autographed the guitar’s blue-and-yellow Hoffee case. Eventually the instrument will arrive in Ukraine as a gift to its citizens. “My hope is that this guitar can inspire the global music community to give generously to humanitarian relief,” Manzer says.
At press time, the Sunflower Guitar for Ukraine had raised $125,000. You can make a donation at sunflowerguitar.com.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.